The surest sign of autumn is not leaves changing colors, apple cider appearing on store shelves, or the kids returning to school. It is the return of Ohio State Buckeyes football. Autumn returns a few days early in 2017 as No. 2 Ohio State kicks off their campaign in a rare Thursday night matchup in Bloomington against the Indiana Hoosiers.
Last season the Scarlet and Gray defied the Big Ten standings by qualifying for the playoffs despite winning neither their division nor conference. The 3-seeded Buckeyes met the 2-seed Clemson Tigers in the Fiesta Bowl, and Clemson proceeded to curb stomp OSU into submission 31-0 while ruining New Year’s Eve for the Buckeye State. The Tigers outgained their opponents 470-215 while the sloppy Bucks did themselves no favors with interceptions and missed field goals. Head Coach Urban Meyer and his squad are eager to hit the gridiron again and purge that regrettable bowl game from their collective memories. Ohio State remains the odds-on favorite to win the Big Ten East and the conference title game; that road to Indianapolis begins, conveniently enough, in southern Indiana.
The 2016 Hoosiers went 6-7 (4-5 Big Ten) including a 26-24 loss to Utah in the Foster Farms Bowl. Last season marked the first time the Hoosiers qualified for a bowl game in consecutive years since 1990-91 seasons. However, IU still has not won a bowl game since the 1991 Copper Bowl. While all the Hoosiers really want at this point is more bowl appearances the administration upset their continuity by firing head coach Kevin Wilson after the regular season finale. Tom Allen took over as head coach and will lead the team in 2017. Where did Kevin Wilson go? We’ll get to that momentarily.
Ohio State leads the all-time series 72-12-5. The Buckeyes are riding a 22-game win streak in this series. The schools tied 27-27 in 1990, and IU has not defeated their neighbor since a 41-7 walloping in 1988. In other words, the last time Indiana beat Ohio State at football no players on either team were alive yet and Urban Meyer was a linebackers coach at Illinois State.
The host Bucks easily defeated the Hoosiers last season 38-17. The last time the schools clashed in Bloomington it was a decidedly tenser affair. Indiana showed plenty of pluck late as the final play of the game was an IU Hail Mary that mercifully avoided the longing hands of the Hoosier receivers. Even with that close shave, the average margin of victory in the past four contests stands at 17.75 points.
Remember Kevin Wilson from earlier? During the offseason Meyer added him to the staff as his offensive coordinator. While most Buckeye fans may know him as the underwhelming head coach of Indiana (26-47 under his guidance) he made his name as the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma from 2002-10 where his Sooners won six conference titles and appeared in the 2008 BCS Championship Game. The hope goes that Wilson’s return to the coordinator role will catapult Ohio State’s offense to newfound heights.
It may seem that every Ohio State underclassman has declared for the NFL Draft in the past few years, but the Bucks will feature ten senior/fifth year senior/graduates starters in 2017.
- LT Jamarco Jones (Sr.)
- C Billy Price (Gr.)
- TE Marcus Baugh (Sr.)
- QB J.T. Barrett (Sr.)
- DE Tyquan Lewis (Sr.)
- DT Tracy Sprinkle (Sr.)
- DE Jayln Holmes (Sr.)
- MLB Chris Worley (Sr.)
- SAF Damon Webb (Sr.)
- SAF Erick Smith (Sr.)
The biggest name among the seniors is of course quarterback J.T. Barrett. It seems like just yesterday the unheralded backup was forced to go under center in the wake of Braxton Miller’s unexpected injury. Today he is a fifth year senior who owns the Ohio State record for most touchdowns responsible for (passing, rushing, and receiving) with 100. He is only six scores behind Purdue hurler Drew Brees’ conference record of 106. Before he plays his final down in Scarlet and Gray there is a better than good chance that Barrett will stand atop all significant OSU all-time leaderboards. In 2016 alone he rushed for 845 yards and nine touchdowns to complement his 233-of-379 passing for 2,555 yards and 24 touchdowns with only seven interceptions.
The season opener offers a few irregularities. The Buckeyes are opening on a Thursday night for the first time since their 2010 contest with Marshall, they are starting against a Big Ten team, and they are more interested in the following week. On September 9, Ohio State will host Oklahoma in what figures to be a matchup of Top 10 teams. While that game will draw the eyes of a national audience and offers playoff implications that means Thursday’s matchup should have “Trap” written all over it. Urban Meyer has enough savvy to keep his team focused on the task at hand. Even with a rowdy home crowd and moonlit field, Indiana does not hold a candle to Ohio State’s talent and potential. Expect a tense early quarter followed by a good old fashioned beatdown. Advantage Buckeyes.